9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


String instruments at the Wuerttemberg court c.1717: identification of the Hand Gamba

Samantha Owens

Archival sources relating to music at the court of Württemberg (in south-western Germany) around the turn of the eighteenth century occasionally refer to an unusual stringed instrument known to local musicians as a Hand Gamba. Far from being a novelty it was considered a reasonably standard member of the ducal musical ensemble, since in 1717 the acting Kapellmeister stated it was necessary for the performance of both a "well-appointed" Kirchen-Music and Tafel-Music. The appearance of the Hand Gamba in a comprehensive inventory of instruments owned by the court in 1718 proves that it was an entity in its own right--quite distinct from other strings such as the viola da gamba The myriad of instruments available to the Württemberg Kapellmeister around this time clearly shows that the transition from consort to orchestra had yet to be fully accomplished at the court. This paper will examine the extant references to this mysterious instrument (which include contemporary descriptions of musicians playing it) in an attempt to determine its identity-focusing on both the Hand Gamba's physical nature and its function within the ducal Hofkapelle.

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